Pharmacists should have the ability to refer patients directly to secondary care for dermatological conditions, the chair of the All-Party Pharmacy Group (APPG) has said.
Speaking to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 16 February 2023, Taiwo Owatemi, who is also an MP for Coventry North West and a trained pharmacist, said that community pharmacists “should be able to do proper referrals straight to secondary care”.
“There is no reason why patients have to book additional appointments with their GP only to get referrals, when we have the clinical skills to identify or notice that the patient’s condition is worsening and advise them to go and see a secondary care clinician,” she said.
Owatemi’s comments follow the publication of the APPG’s report into ‘The Future of Pharmacy’ in January 2023, which recommended that community pharmacy “be placed at the heart of decision-making and policy development including new care pathways for patients”.
In June 2022, NHS England announced plans for a pilot service in which 40 pharmacies in England would refer patients with possible signs of cancer for scans from January 2023.
However, Owatemi said that patients should also be referred to secondary care through dermatology services.
“We can look at somebody and [say] ‘OK, your dermatological condition is worsening, you’re going to need to see a consultant and to deal with this situation.’ Pharmacists could easily help that,” she said.
Owatemi also said that Labour’s policy on community pharmacy is currently being developed by shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.
“Wes has been great in terms of allowing me to feed into that but, right now, I’m in the process of speaking to different pharmacy groups,” she said.
“I am meeting with different pharmacy professions, from homecare pharmacy to the different groups that exist locally and nationally, to really understand what pharmacy wants to see. And only then will I be able to outline Labour’s policy.”
On 31 January 2023, Owatemi, who also sits on the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, questioned health secretary Steve Barclay on the government’s progress with implementing a ‘Pharmacy First’ minor ailments service in England.
Barclay said at the time that there was “strong agreement” between the government and the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee on setting up a ‘Pharmacy First’ service, but added that the government needs “to look at the financing of that”.
Owatemi said that discussions around how the service is commissioned may be “holding up” its launch in pharmacy.
“There are some internal politics as well, purely to do with the fact that some of the services pharmacists are asking to deliver are currently being delivered by GPs, and those discussions need to be had about changing the way that those services are currently commissioned,” she said.
“So, I would expect internal discussions to be had on some of the politics around that.”
The idea of setting up a national minor ailments service, similar to Scotland’s NHS Pharmacy First service, was first floated by then health secretary Sajid Javid in October 2021.
Through Scotland’s ‘NHS Pharmacy First’ scheme, pharmacists can offer free advice, treatment and referrals to patients presenting with minor conditions and supply treatment for certain conditions, without the need for a patient to visit their GP.
However, plans for a similar service in England appeared to have been shelved following the announcement of an agreement on the final two years of the current community pharmacy contract in September 2022.